Directed by Trey Edward Shults
Starring Kelvin Harrison Jr., Taylor Russell, Alexa Demie, Sterling K. Brown, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Lucas Hedges
Chronicling the trials of life for an affluent African-American family, headed by a domineering father (Sterling K. Brown), the son (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) he both pushes and puts on a pedestal, and the fallout from a tragic event that shatters their seemingly idyllic existence.
Waves is special. Very special. We’re talking the kind of singular vision with retina scorching shot composition that not only provide the basis for a stunning piece of storytelling, but cements It Comes At Night director Trey Edward Shults as one of the very best of the new wave of filmmakers. Go in knowing as little as possible about the numerous fracture lines that explode within this family unit, and let its colour schemes, soundtrack, and stunning performances simply wash over you.
The unique viewfinder perspective hits you from the off, as Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and his sweetheart Alexis (Alexa Demie) share a shouty sing-a-long while driving irresponsibly on the freeway, and as they do so the camera weaves deliriously in a 360° spin, perfectly reflecting their wanton abandon. It’s just the first of many creative embellishments that provide Waves with such a unique visual DNA: the camera shudders as a door is slammed, there is a piece of lens-flare symmetry from some cop-car lights that that would have J.J. Abrams drooling, and moment in which a conflicted character is lit with strobe lighting, each beat seemingly presenting a different facade, that is truly breathtaking.
They’re not simply parlour tricks or the folly of a young director, for all of these techniques are integral to framing the powerful narrative: a wrestling scene uses superb sound editing that’ll have you squirming in your seat, and a pivotal transition shot is seamless, switching the aspect ratio as their broken world gets smaller. It’s the kind of imagery that you’ll see when you close your eyes at night.
Just as indelible are the performances. Sterling K. Brown is a giant as the seemingly bottled-raged father. He carries the same crackling intensity that bubbles under the entire film, a frisson of buried combustibility that has everyone, including the audience, on edge. To say anything more about the evolution of his character would be to veer into spoiler territory, but suffice to say he, again much like the film, doesn’t go where you expect him to, and that’s largely thanks to Brown’s layered performance.
Carrying the emotional weight of the film are the two young leads, who because of the potentially divisive Place Beyond the Pines style story structure, both get their share of the drama. Harrison Jr. does a brilliant job of depicting a young boy struggling with forging his own identity in the face of the weight of expectation placed upon him by his father. His is very much a performance of mood, physicality, and unspoken turmoil, all of which compliments the more stylistically heavy first half. The baton is then handed to Taylor Russell (Lost in Space), who’s given the emotional heft of the film, a more grounded and realistic thread, taking the film towards an ambiguously triumphant conclusion.
Flooded with creativity, Waves is a wonderfully unique soul-stirring experience. A tough-and-tender study in grief and growth that’s buoyed by an ensemble of incredible actors.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter @mainstreammatt